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Monday, November 25, 2013

Disaster Planning: Practice Makes Perfect

By: Mike Lovas, Saint Paul Emergency Management

We’ve all heard the old adage, “practice makes perfect.” We’ve all conducted some sort of planning in our lives and created plans for a multitude of things, whether it is a plan for preparing our homes for winter, a plan for picking the kids up at school, a plan for who will buy the groceries this week, we all have plans.  And when it’s time to put our plans in motion, they may go smoothly, or outside factors may prevent us from doing them, such as being held up at work in a meeting, caught in traffic, kids stayed home sick, etc.

The City of Saint Paul is no different. Throughout our city departments, we have plans for multiple things.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later the 34th President of the United States, said, “Plans are nothing.  Planning is everything.”  What he meant was that plans never practiced, revisited or updated mean nothing, but the fact that you plan and practice so you are ready when the time comes to execute means everything towards success.

In that spirit, departments within the city have worked hard this last year to practice our plans, test our  responses, work together in new, unique ways to improve, evolve and test response capabilities, plans and techniques.  Some examples include recent training between our S.W.A.T. team and our fire department’s EMS team, working together to learn how to enter hostile environments with S.W.A.T. police protection while they treat and remove injured people from an active scene.  This is directly in response to lessons learned from the Columbine High School event and many others since then.  By learning, practicing and refining their techniques, our EMS members and S.W.A.T. team will be well-suited to perform these duties if ever called upon.  This is one example of many that our first responders and city agencies are practicing.
Another recent example is our shelter capability.  The City of Saint Paul has plans for certain buildings and community centers to be used as shelters in the event of a disaster that displaces a sizable number of residents.  In October, we got together with our city partners and tested our plan for activating and setting up a shelter, resourcing all needs to operate the shelter, and accept people into the shelter.  We made sure to test our capabilities related to sheltering pets as well as people, taking special care to review our procedures for people with functional needs.  Because we cannot truly understand the needs if we ourselves do not have certain limitations, we brought in people from the community to test what we have in place, let us know what we are doing well, and offer their recommendations for improvement to make the services we provide to the residents of Saint Paul even better. 

If that bad day ever does happen and we need to open shelters in the city, the fact that we are taking the time now to go through the planning process, to practice and test those procedures and then improve the plans will be crucial to having the best process possible to support our citizens.
For more on how to prepare for a disaster, visit: http://www.ready.gov/minnesota


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